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The Road to Freedom Traveled by Iowa Braiders

In the last issue of Liberty & Law, we shared our big victory on behalf of African hair braiders in Kentucky, and we are excited to announce another major victory for hair braiders in Iowa. Braiders in the Hawkeye State no longer need to get a government-mandated cosmetology license before they can work and will now simply need to register with the state. Previously, hair braiders were forced to spend thousands of dollars on 2,100 hours of cosmetology training—training that had nothing to do with hair braiding. IJ sued in 2015 on behalf of Aicheria Bell and Achan Agit, two braiders who wanted to open up their own shops to support themselves.

After IJ filed the case and caused an uproar in the media, it became clear that Iowa did not want to defend this incredibly burdensome license in court. This meant that IJ Attorneys Meagan Forbes and Paul Avelar had to bring their expertise to the state Legislature, where lobbyists for cosmetology schools were working behind the scenes to end our lawsuit by getting legislators to enact more specific but still burdensome requirements for braiders.

Luckily, braiding freedom found a kindred spirit in state Rep. Dawn Pettengill, who introduced a bill to fully exempt braiders
from Iowa’s cosmetology licensing scheme. Her bill was based on IJ’s model legislation that Kentucky and Nebraska enacted earlier this year. It looked like the bill was going to easily pass without any roadblocks from the cosmetology schools—until the 11th hour, when lobbyists persuaded the Speaker of the House to insert language regulating braiders into an appropriation bill that needed to pass. It would have mooted IJ’s lawsuit and forced braiders to be regulated by the Department of Public Health and its industry allies. We fought hard against the provisions, but the House and Senate passed the bill and sent it to Gov. Branstad for his signature.

But that did not stop us.

IJ has had a relationship with the governor and his staff since 2013, when a group of IJers met with him to discuss the consequences of occupational licensing. He recognized then that such laws hurt his goal of making Iowa the state with the nation’s lowest unemployment rate.

We spoke to his staff about how the amendments restricted braiders’ economic liberty. And on May 27, the governor vetoed the last-minute additions and signed into law just a single provision that establishes a simple registration requirement for braiders. The new law went into effect on July 1, meaning braiders from Davenport to Sioux City are working freely after submitting their names and addresses to the state.

After we got news of the veto, Meagan happily called Aicheria and Achan to let them know they would no longer need an expensive and burdensome license to braid hair. Both women were overjoyed, and we are already looking for opportunities to bring our victories in Iowa, Nebraska and Kentucky to other states during the 2017 legislative session.

This lawsuit highlights what IJ does best when faced with fierce opposition: combine our multifaceted expertise to achieve real results for our clients.

Most importantly, for Aicheria and Achan, it is a complete victory. We look forward to having an even more successful 2017 legislative session.

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